Senior mens hockey back in Okotoks
Hockey: Drillers to play out of Scott Seaman Arena in Davisburg
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Friday, Sep 13, 2013 11:43 am
An Okotoks team is returning to Senior men’s hockey after a more than 20-year hiatus.
The expansion Okotoks Drillers have been approved for the Chinook Hockey League — a AAA league which is home of the defending Allan Cup champion Bentley Generals.
The Drillers received approval on Sept. 10 and they will replace the Sylvan Lake Admirals, who have folded.
Drillers general manager Jason Pytlarz said the team will not play in the AAA playoffs for provincials, but will drop down to AA. The Drillers initially accepted a position with the Ranchland Hockey League, which consists of teams in southern Alberta, including the nearby Nanton Palominos and Lomond Lakers.
However, Pytlarz said he had to jump at the opportunity to play AAA when it came up.
“I don’t think anybody knew that (Sylvan Lake folding) was going to happen,” Pytlarz said. “It was kind of an emergency thing. I resigned from the Ranchland League today (Sept. 11) and I still want to support them in any way I can.
“I just thought this was the best move for our team right now.”
Pytlarz said he believes the Drillers can compete during regular season play and then vie for a provincial title in AA with the ultimate goal being to win the Allan Cup in the future.
“We will have a full roster,” Pytlarz said. “We are going to have to be selective — we have a lot of good players… The whole reason we are doing this is we believe there are a whole group of guys who are too young to be playing beer league and not playing.”
Okotoks last had a Senior team in the Ranchland League in the early 1990s, winning the championship in 1989-90 as the Okotoks Oilers. The Oilers were also part of Southern Alberta Men’s Hockey League, winning provincial championships in the 1970s.
The Drillers will play out of the new Scott Seaman Sports Rink at Heritage Heights.
There will be some familiar names skating for the team at the rink next to Heritage Heights School.
One of the prospective Drillers is Jeff Sapieha, a centre for the Okotoks Jr. A Oilers in their first two years of existence.
“Right now, I play for my company team, I quit playing super-competitive two years ago when I played for the Pensacola Icefire (a pro team in Florida),” the 27-year-old Sapieha said. “I want to play for the Drillers because I want to play good hockey and still be competitive.”
Sapieha played for the Nanton Palominos, who won the Senior Men’s AA Provincial championship last year.
Pytlarz, who lives in the Aldersysde area, was part of the Palomino’s brass last season.
“The Drillers came together because of Jay, he has put a lot of effort into it,” Sapieha said. “We will be competitive, I can guarantee it.”
The Drillers’ player-coach is Curtis Billsten, who played for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League as well as professionally in Germany and with the Victoria Salmon Kings, where he played with Okotoks’ Tim Wedderburn.
“I came back from Germany and I played for the Palominos and got to know Jay,” Billsten said. “His love of the game inspired me to take the game a little bit more serious and now I am with the Drillers.”
He has been busy recruiting top-level players from Calgary and Foothills area so the Drillers can compete in the tough Chinook league.
Some of the other prospective Drillers include former Junior A Oiler Jeff Matheson and former SAIT Trojan Jon Malin from Okotoks.
Chinook League president George Vanberg said Okotoks is a welcome addition.
“We have had some good conversations with them and we talked about the quality of players they are bringing in,” Vanberg said. “That is what the Chinook Hockey League is looking for is teams that can compete.”
The Okotoks team will be the league’s most southern team. It had been looking at adding teams to the south prior to Okotoks coming into the league.
The Drillers will hit the ice for the first time Oct. 4-6 for a pre-season Chinook League tournament in Innisfail.
Their schedule has not been finalized and the Scott Seaman arena does not open until Nov. 16.
The other teams in the Chinook League are the Bentley Generals, Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs, Innisfail Eagles and Stony Plain Eagles.
Anyone with enquiries or wish to try out for the team may call Pytlarz at 403-874-2574.